tv Washington Week PBS May 5, 2012 1:30am-2:00am EDT
gwen: the tale of the blind chinese activists. the ups and downs of the economy. a secret trip to afghanistan and the fight for virginia. tonight on washington week. >> we undertook almost like a "mission: impossible" retrieval to bring him into the embassy. >> gwen: the complicated case of chen quangcheng that plunged the u.s. into a domestic standoff with china. the president's secret trip to afghanistan. >> the agreement we signed today sends a clear message to the afghan people. as you stand up, you will not stand alone. gwen: what it meant and what it didn't mean. today's new unemployment numbers. is the economy getting better or have job seekers given up? >> this is a sad time in america, when people who want work can't find jobs. >> and mitt romney ties up loose ends.
their name, santorum, bachmann and gingrich. >> i'm asked sometimes is mitt romney conservative enough, and my answer is simple -- compared to barack obama? you know, this is not a choice between mitt romney and ronald reagan. gwen: covering the week, martha raddatz of abc news, peter baker of the new york times, david wessel of the "wall street journal" and charles babington of "the associated press." >> award-winning reporting and analysis, covering history as it happens, live from our nation's capitol, this is "washington week" with gwen ifill, produced in association with "national journal." corporate funding for "washington week" is provided by -- >> this rock has never stood still. since 1875 we've been there for our clients through good times and bad. when their needs changed, we were there to meet them. through the years, from
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by the annenberg foundation, the corporation for public broadcasting, and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. once again, live from washington, moderator gwen ifill. gwen: good evening. one of the week's most fascinating stories unfolded half a world away. it involved a blind hero, a daring escape, alleged death threats, secret negotiations of a high-profile domestic dance between two tentative allies, the u.s. and china. the curious case of chen quangcheng. >> he confirms that he and his family now want to go to the united states so he can pursue his studies. over the course of the day, progress has been made to help him have the future that he wants, and we will be staying in touch with --
gwen: so who is chen quangcheng and how did he end up in the middle of a debate between two of the world's super powers? >> it was a whiplash week. we all thought this was solved, that he would stay in china in the middle of the week, but alas, by the end of the week he's going to come to the united states. let me backtrack a little bit, a lit bit more about chen. human rights activist, as you said, blind, so dramatic this week, because he escaped. he had been under house arrest for a couple of years. before that he was in prison. he was with his wife and young daughter in this house. in a rural province in china. and in the middle of the night he certainly used his blindness, because he is used to darkness and his guards weren't. he played sick for a few weeks, so they were not really looking after him that well. climbed over a wall, through a field, through a river, felt his way around. then another dissident met him and then they linked up with the
u.s. embassy. a car picked them up from the u.s. embassy. behind all the scenes all of this was being worked out by the embassy. the united states was so quiet about this, as you know. the diplomats were saying nothing. they wouldn't even confirm he was in the embassy until they worked this out. hillary clinton, meanwhile, is on her way for other meetings about security and the economy, and they want to get this solved before she gets there. gwen: now, 300 miles from chan dung province to beijing, no one confirming it for a couple of days that's being held or being protected at the u.s. elm bales. at first we're told he doesn't want to leave china, he wants to stay and continue his work. but that changed. >> that certainly did change. you saw all these amazing pictures of him with the u.s. diplomats. assistant secretary of state for asia, kurt campbell and you saw ambassador gary locke and a
legal advisor at the state department, hugging, clutching hands with him. he looked so hea. he was going to be transferred to the hospital because he broke his foot when he climbed over the wall. and he also had other health problems from years of, he said, beatings. but he got out, he got to the hospital after saying he wanted to stay in china and the u.s. saying basically he's happy to do this, he wants to do this, he has some guarantees. and he got out and suddenly he was saying he was pressured into leaving. the twitter lit up. all sorts of social media lit up, saying the story the media has is wrong. gwen: it should be said that twitter lit up not in china. >> not in china, but they know how to get over those firewalls in chipe. in fact, there is some access there by getting over those firewalls. >> the question for a couple of days was what happened with secretary clinton and her people. did they misjudge, did they make
mistakes? it looked pretty bad for a couple of days there where he's calling into every media organization and even to a house committee, saying help me, in effect. >> help me, help me, pleading for them to -- i think what happened initially when he got out and into the hospital, he linked up with his wife, and his wife said that she had been threatened, that they had threatened to kill her. in fact, some people said that she was beaten while he was in the u.s. embassy. so she was threatened, and if he didn't leave the embassy -- but the united states said we didn't know about that. we had no idea. and yet, it's obvious they wanted to get this done before hillary clinton got into town. so that continued. then, as you know, he changed his mind again. >> so why do the chinese let this guy, who they're kind of holding in a hospital, have a cell phone to speak to a u.s. congressional hearing? i don't think stalin did that with his political prisoners. >> i know, pretty incredible. he was talking on the phone, yet, you couldn't go anywhere near him. one of the things that the
diplomats didn't do is they didn't stay overnight. they didn't have someone staying with him in the hospital, and i think he got really spooked and really nervous about how this thing would go down. i did ask someone, what did he think would happen to his wife while he was in the u.s. embassy after this dramatic escape? they had been beaten, he said, for years prior to that, his wife included. so i don't know what he thought was going to happen to his wife. i think part of this is fatigue, too. i think the diplomats were probably fatigued. chen was in a terrible emotional state. so when he got out and he heard those stories from his wife, i got right on that cell phone and started talking to people, so they didn't take his cell phone away. they wanted hill gone, let's face it. >> what does this do to the whole issue of human rights in china, which has been abissue for many, many years? >> certainly signs a spotlight on it, but with chen in the united states he's not there to work for reform. >> and now he's headed to the united states. >> you never know. gwen: the distance from beijing
to kabul is about 2,600 miles. i looked it up. however, it could also be measured this week as a distance between foreign policy success. the day before the president flew out of washington undercover of darkness on a surprise visit to afghanistan this week, the talk was all about whether he was exploiting the anniversary of osama bin laden's death for political purposes. the day after, not so much. >> as we emerge from a decade of conflict abroad and economic crisis at home, it's time to renew america, an america where our children live free from fear and have the skills to claim their dreams. gwen: but was the president's dramatic visit, in and out in just a little over six hours, about substance, peter, or was it about symbolism? >> well, you add a little dose of substance, you add a little dose of symbolism and you get a recipe for the power of the encumbantcy. mitt romney on the other side of the ocean is watching, as the president is able to command the dialogue for five, six straight
days about his national security record, starting with the videotape that they released, boasting about the raid that killed bin laden all the way through this secret middle-of-the-night trip to afghanistan. there is substance here. he signed a strategic partnership agreement with president karzai of afghanistan that in effect lays out the map of what we see is our relationship for the next really 12 years, until 2024. planning to withdraw troops, most troops, not all troops, by the end of 2014 and turning things over to the afghans. this is all in advance of the nato summit. but a lot of symbolism. you saw a picture of the president standing right there, beaming from a war zone. how many times has the president addressed the natures public from a war zone live? >> never. >> right. at 4:00 in the morning. and kabul, not a lot of afghans up. gwen: he addressed the troops. he got a lot done in a little bit of time. what does that tell you, because he was in darkness, and also, there's still almost three years left of the troops.
>> president obama keeps talking about winding down, winding down, but they're not really close to that yet. >> no, and it's interesting between hawk and dove here. one day he's boasting about killing america's number one enemy, the next he's talking about pulling out troops but also staying there for a long time. he's trying toe, in effect, have it both ways by telling the americans we have a way to get out, and telling the afghans we're not leaving all together, don't get nervous and don't think you, the taliban, can take advantage that we're going to leave in a couple of years. >> do they have any strategytor coping with this? he got bin laden. he's delivering on his promise to -- >> is it even possible to have a political advantage with an incumbent president? >> they hired for a party out of power who has air force one and the pictures of all those military vehicles behind him. >> do they have an alternative plan for afghanistan? >> they don't really. they don't like the deadline. they think it sends a signal to
the enemy. but there's a discomfort with the republican party about what's now america's longest-running war. you saw the interesting response in the few days between last week and this, in which they initially complained about president obama talking about the bin laden raid. by the time he landed in afghanistan, they realized this is not a winner issue for us. let's try to say we appreciate what's happened here and move on to the economy which is better territory politically. >> is it a coincidence that in the same week we get the first look at the bin laden papers that were picked up when he was killed a full year ago? why did that happen when it happened? >> even the white house didn't try to pretend that that was just a coincidence. everybody is interested in the anniversary, so we decided it was a good time to put them out. there were interesting things in the documents. these are 175 pages worth of letters that bin laden had written or had written to him that talked a little bit about what he was like in the final days, months and even years of hiding in pakistan. but the political impact is to draw out the story one more year. oh, the bin laden guy. who was the one who got him?
right, it was president obama. so it's been interesting, all leading up to saturday's official kickoff of his re-election campaign. no accident there. gwen: remind people of why the secrecy wasn't just about creating heightened drama about the president, oh, look, i'm in afghanistan. you've been on these war zone trips. there's a reason for it. >> these papers show you this. bin laden, in his hideaway in azeinab badawi ordered the assassination of bin laden, if it could be carried ourt, if he ever came to afghanistan. so they have real reasons to be afraid of security. in fact, president obama landed in darkness. they rushed to get done before dawn, before light came, an within an hour and a half of his departure, there was a suicide bomb attack in kabul that the taliban claimed was an attempt to send a signal to the president. gwen: this is probably unfair to ask you, but do we have any reason to believe that karzai is a partner we can work with at this point? >> not an easy answer.
it happened to him at a good moment, when the general, who's the ambassador there, once talked about whether he was on his meds or not. he was in good behavior. he was happy to have his partnership agreement signed and we were not angry at each other about issues of kora nathan and other terrible pictures. gwen: unemployment is down, but only slightly. while the number of people who have given up even looking for work has increased. yet, consider these numbers as well -- since the president took office in 2009, the unemployment rate has risen .3%, from 7.8% to 8.1% we heard today. meanwhile, the number of private-sector jobs has grown a bit by 35,000, and the number of government jobs has shrunk, down a whopping 6 on 07,000. what are -- 607,000. what are we to read into all these numbers? >> it gives us a picture of an economy that is healing, but at a painfully slow rate. the jobs numbers looked like this. in january and february we had
pretty good numbers, more than 250,000 jobs a month. in march and april we have lousy job numbers, less than 150,000 jobs a month. so there's two explanations. one is that there was warm weather and maybe some of the economic activity was pulled forward into january and february. and now we're just settling back into a normal pattern. the other, and somewhat more frightening thing, is what if the economy was, as it's done in past years, started the year strong and tapered off? the stock market had a lousy day today. they suggest it's more than weather fluctuations. the point you make about unemployment is really important. the unemployment rate fell because so many people dropped oust the job market. gwen: how could that be good news? >> it's not good news. as a percentage, there are fewer men working or looking for work. that's the definition of being in the job market. at any time since 1949. when the congressional budget office a few years ago projected what the workforce would be this year, they said there would be five million more people working
or looking for work than they actually are. this is the wrong way to get unemployment down. the political situation is pretty obvious. the worse the economy, the better it is for mitt romney. so mitt romney did the predictable thing and said these are terrible numbers. he said, we seem to be slowing down, not speeding up. and president obama did the predictable thing, which says when i came to office the economy was sinking. and if you measure it from the bottom, we've created 4 million jobs since the bottom. gwen: we've almost replaced all the jobs we lost. >> this is the third year where we started off with fairly robust growths and peatered out by spring, got down to mediocre numbers. why is that? is that a new number that we have to live with or is it that we haven't got a recovery going in any meaningful way? >> it does mean that, but part of the problem may just be that when they adjust the numbers they're distorted. but you have to remember in the past couple of years something unexpected has happened in the spring.
there was the japanese earthquake. then there was the europe -- europe decided to do its semi-annual blow itself up exercise. last summer there was the debt ceiling debacle. one view is if the economy is trying to get going again, but then something always comes to knock it off. the other view is there's some weird seasonal pattern that we don't understand. gwen: what about the housing market, david? >> housing market is bumping along the bottom, which, after all this time, housing prices down 30%, is not good, but it's just not getting worse. one result of of this slightly worse news about the economy is that mortgage rates are falling again. you can now get a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage for 3.8 prls. those are levels that haven't been seen in decades. in ordinary times a whole lot of people would refinance, they'd have money and they would have money again. but the system is so clogged and broken that's not happening. >> the u.k. is back into another double-dip recession, and how does this affect what's going on
here, or does it? >> well, it does, of course, because we live in a global economy and part of the game plan here, we were supposed to export our way out of our mess. and the rest of the world is doing worse than we are. europe -- you're right, the u.k. is in double dip. the rest of -- southern europe is 25% unemployment. australia, which has been one of the stars of the world economy has run into a little trouble. china is slowing down. so it would be a really good time for the u.s. engine to get going again, but that doesn't seem to be happening. gwen: david, the jobs that seem to have disappeared somehow, will they ever come back or have we turned a corner into a different place now, in which we have to get used to assessing a shrunken economy? >> we will someday get back to full employment. the jobs will be different. we see the good news in manufacturing. some manufacturing jobs are coming back. manufacturing is one of the sectors that's adding jobs. but it's going to be a long time before we feel like everybody who wants to have a job has one.
gwen: ok. well, thank you on that. now, you always cheer me right up. not exactly. well, on to politics. if you happen to live in new york or california or utah, say, and you don't make big campaign contributions, don't expect to see a lot of presidential campaigning this year. but if you are, say, an independent, working-class voter living in ohio, florida or any of about a dozen other swing states, expect to hear a lot from both barack obama and mitt romney. consider the commenlt of virginia. candidate obama kicks off his official campaign there this weekend, but president obama just so happened to be there today. >> my message to congress is going to be just saying no to ideas that will create new jobs is not an option. there's too much at stake for us not to all be rowing in the same direction. >> but mitt romney is seeding to ground in the old dominion. he was there yesterday. >> i'm asked sometimes, is mitt
romney conservative enough? and my answer is simple -- compared to barack obama? ♪ i was born free ♪ >> that was a good one. gwen: mitt romney was in virginia yesterday, and he was saying that president obama was wrong on this idea about the economy, was wrong in what he was saying to virginia voters, obviously. so -- >> the very fact that romney is having to devote so much time and attention to virginia, and it's going to continue, is a problem for mitt romney, because this is a state that barack obama won. it has not been won since 1964. even north carolina voted for jimmy carter, virginia did not. for years and years and years, virginia was seen as a solid republican state. barack obama changed that when he also won north carolina and indiana. for mitt romney to win the presidency, he almost surely has to win virginia. if he doesn't win virginia, he
has bigger problems. you mentioned ohio and florida. they're the states that we always expect to be in the fight. but if you start by losing a state that really, for years and years, had been in the republican column, you started behind. gwen: we've seen polls this week in all three of those states. what does it look like? >> "the washington post" had a poll today that showed barack obama with a lead in virginia. it's very early, but still, things that have been happening in virginia are problematic, or at least worrisome for romney and the republicans, because where obama did so well, there's a growing hispanic population there, and the hispanics are going to play crucial roles in other swing states. where he really did so well was in the washington suburbs are virginia, and that's where there's a lot of college-educated people, mobile people, and these increasingly are turning a little more democratic. so they've got -- romney has to worry about that type of he electrictor rat, the
raleigh-durham of north carolina and that sort of thing. >> we saw the endorsements from newt gingrich. he also had michele bachmann endorse him. with friends like these, you might wonder, but what does this money at this point and what about santorum? >> he hasn't gone all the way with an endorsement. if any of them refuse to endorse, that would be the bigger story. you're right, there were very tepid -- that was -- gwen: we can take him off the running mate list? >> i think we could have done that before. but there's a big question. there's a question about enthusiasm on both sides. barack obama definitely has some concerns about enthusiasm among young people, who were so important in 2008. there is concerns in the republican party about the enthusiasm of the conservative base, you know, the conservatives that never have seen mitt romney as their guy, and it doesn't help that santorum and gingrich aren't a little more enthusiastic. at the end of the day they'll probably -- they're going to vote, the vast majority of them,
because they don't want obama. gwen: is this going to be all about the economy? >> i know at one point peter said it was about foreign policy this week. but what's it going to be about in these states? >> both parties very much believe that overwhelmingly it will be abt the economy and jobs. that doesn't mean other things won't be talked about. but at the end of the day, that is by far the biggest issue. and you've got to remember -- we think of these campaigns as big national campaigns, but they really -- there's only a handful of states, maybe a dozen at the most. in those states you're only looking at the number of truly persuadeable voters, the swing independents. there's not that many. so you're focusing on those types of voters and they tend not to be nled logical, they tend to --ed in logical, they tend to look for -- >> bread and butter. >> yeah. >> what he said. >> isn't it true that when you ask about foreign policy, the polls show the president has an enormous advantage. >> well, but do people vote on that? >> and can you swing them over to talk about that?
that's the problem. >> if you want to have a shot at obama, it has to be the economy, right? >> yes. where he might talk about foreign policy is, again, where it's like fund-raising. again, he does talk about israel with jewish groups and evangelical christian groups. but i don't think you're going to see these persuadeable voters. gwen: it's not an accident that the president is spending his weekend in ohio and virginia, and that mitt romney gets to ohio on monday. >> ohio and pennsylvania and florida, we'll see these guys over and over and over. >> at least you can get your hotel reservations. thank you, everybody. follow "washington week" online for campaign coverage over the weekend of all these events and all next week. while you're out there, finds out what our panelists are reporting in the essential read section at our website at pbs.org/washingtonweek. we'll see you here next week on "washington week."
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